GENEVA/ROME, 28 June 2002 -- An
expert Consultation on the implications of acrylamide in food,
hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United
Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), concluded
yesterday in Geneva. As follow-up the two organizations hosting
the meeting plan to establish a network for research on
acrylamide to achieve a better understanding of human exposure
and its possible health effects. Acrylamide will be added as a
priority item to the agenda of the forthcoming meeting of the
Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives for a more
The Consultation of 23
scientific experts, specializing in carcinogenicity, toxicology,
food technology, biochemistry and analytical chemistry,
identified a number of important issues for which research is
urgently needed. While acrylamide is known to cause cancer in
laboratory animals, no studies of the relationship between
acrylamide and cancer in humans have been done.
The theoretical models to predict whether cancer would
develop in humans from current average intake levels are not
reliable enough to develop firm conclusions. When investigated
in rats, acrylamide has a potency similar to certain other
well-known carcinogens formed through cooking, such as certain
aromatic hydrocarbons formed in meat when fried or grilled.
However the intake levels for acrylamide are likely to be
higher. Therefore, the consultation recognized that the issue
of acrylamide in food is a major concern.
The Consultation did not consider the data available
to be adequate to present specific quantitative estimates of
cancer risk posed by levels of acrylamide in people's
diets. The scientists urged investigation of the possibilities
for reducing the levels of acrylamide in food by changes in
formulation, processing and other practices.
Acrylamide is a chemical used in the manufacture of
plastics. It was first discovered to be present in certain foods
cooked at high temperatures as the result of work announced in
Sweden in April 2002. It is a known carcinogen and causes nerve
The Swedish research, and
subsequent studies in Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom
and the United States, have found that acrylamide levels in
certain starch-based foods, such as potato chips, french fries,
cookies, cereals and bread, were well above the level given in
the World Health Organization's Guideline Values for
Drinking Water Quality.
Yet the average
intake levels of acrylamide from all sources were determined to
be in the range of 70 micrograms per day for an adult, i.e., a
range significantly below that which is known to cause nerve
damage in laboratory animals.
"After reviewing all the available data, we
have concluded that the new findings constitute a serious
problem. But our current limited knowledge does not allow us to
answer all the questions which have been asked by consumers,
regulators and other interested parties," said Dr
Dieter Arnold, Chairman of the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization hosted
meeting in Geneva.
Foods in which
acrylamide develops when cooked at above 120 degrees Celsius
include potato chips, french fries, bread and processed cereals.
However, the scientists noted, they were not able to determine
if other foods also contained acrylamide, as the research has
not yet been conducted. The experts emphasized that data on
foods consumed as parts of diets in regions other than Europe
and North America is missing and more research is needed here.
Consequently, it is not yet possible to
determine what percentage of overall acrylamide presence in the
human body comes from starch-based foods. Indeed, because other
food, such as fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood, and
beverages and other exposures such as cigarettes, can also
result in acrylamide entering the human body, it is not known
what percentage of the total acrylamide in a human body is from
And scientists do not yet
know how quickly the body can break down acrylamide.
The Consultation recommended that more research is
necessary in areas including:
Determining how acrylamide is formed during the cooking process
- Epidemiological studies of relevant
cancers in humans
- Studies of acrylamide
in other foods, including those present in non- European and
North American diets.